In his wisdom, God has crafted a life for us that does not careen from huge, consequential moment to huge, consequential moment. In fact, if you examine your life, you will see that you have actually had few of those moments. You can probably name only two or three life-changing situations you have lived through. We are all the same; the character and quality of our life is forged in little moments.
Every day we lay little bricks on the foundation of what our life will be. This is evident in our relationships; especially in marriage.
The bricks of words said, the bricks of actions taken, the bricks of little decisions, the bricks of little thoughts, and the bricks of small-moment desires all work together to form the functional edifice that is your marriage. So, you have to view yourself as a marital mason. You are daily on the job adding another layer of bricks that will determine the shape of your marriage for days, weeks, and years to come.
Perhaps this is precisely the problem. It is the problem of perception. We just don't tend to live life this way. We tend to fall into quasi-thoughtless routines and instinctive ways of doing things that are less self-conscious than they need to be. And we tend to back away from the significance of these little moments because they are little moments. You see, the opposite is true: little moments are significant because they are little moments. These are the moments that make up our lives. These are the moments that set up our future. These are the moments that shape our relationships.
We must have a "day-by-day" approach to everything in our lives, and if we do, we will choose our bricks carefully and place them strategically.
Things don't go bad in a marriage in an instant. The character of a marriage is not formed in one grand moment. Things in a marriage go bad progressively. Things become sweet and beautiful progressively. The development and deepening of the love in a marriage happens by things that are done daily; this is also true with the sad deterioration of a marriage. The problem is that we simply don't pay attention, and because of this we allow ourselves to think, desire, say, and do things that we shouldn't.
Let me play out this life of little-moment inattention for you. You squeeze and crinkle the toothpaste tube even though you know it bothers your spouse. You complain about the dirty dishes instead of putting them in the dishwasher. You fight for your own way in little things, rather than seeing them as an opportunity to serve. You allow yourself to go to bed irritated after a little disagreement. Day after day you leave for work without a moment of tenderness between you. You fight for your view of beauty rather than making your home a visual expression of the tastes of both of you. You allow yourself to do little rude things you would never have done in courtship. You quit asking for forgiveness in the little moments of wrong. You complain about how the other does little things, when it really doesn't make any difference. You make little decisions without consultation.
You quit investing in the friendship intimacy of your marriage. You fight for your own way rather than for unity in little moments of disagreement. You complain about the other's foibles and weaknesses. You fail to seize those openings to encourage. You quit searching for little avenues for expressing love. You begin to keep a record of little wrongs. You allow yourself to be irritated by what you once appreciated. You quit making sure that every day is punctuated with tenderness before sleep takes you away. You quit regularly expressing appreciation and respect. You allow your physical eyes and the eyes of your heart to wander. You swallow little hurts that you would have once discussed. You begin to turn little requests into regular demands. You quit taking care of yourself. You become willing to live with more silence and distance than you would have when you were approaching marriage.
You quit working in those little moments to make your marriage better, and you begin to succumb to what is.
Why do we quit paying attention? Because it is hard work to care, it is hard work to discipline ourselves to be careful, and it is hard work to always be thinking of the other person. Now, be prepared to have your feelings hurt: you and I tend to want the other to work hard because that will make our lives easier, but we don't really want to have to sign in for the hard work ourselves. Oh, I'm not done! I think there is an epidemic of marital laziness among us. We want to be able to coast and have things not only stay the same but get better. And I am absolutely persuaded that laziness is rooted in the self-centeredness of sin.
We have already examined the antisocial danger of this thing inside us that the Bible calls sin. We have already considered that it turns us in on ourselves, but it does something else. It reduces us to marital passivity. We want the good things to come to us without the hard work of laying the daily bricks that will result in the good things. And we are often more focused on what the other is failing to do and more focused on waiting for him to get his act together than we are on our own commitment to doing whatever is daily necessary to make our marriages what God intended them to be.
You can have a good marriage, but you must understand that a good marriage is not a mysterious gift. No, it is, rather, a set of commitments that forges itself into a moment-by-moment lifestyle.
Paul Tripp is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries, a nonprofit organization whose mission statement is "Connecting the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life." Tripp is also professor of pastoral life and care at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Texas, and executive director of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care in Fort Worth, Texas. Tripp has written many books on Christian living that are read and distributed internationally. He has been married for many years to Luella, and they have four grown children. For more information, visit http://www.paultrippministries.org/store
[Editor's note: Taken from What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage (Crossway, 2010), by Paul David Tripp.]